UPDATED WITH ADDITIONAL STATS!!!
...plus a correction: Went back and triple-checked my stats on 2008 and 2009. Turns out, my first count for 2009 for gains of 20 of more yards was off by three. Florida has 29 gains of 20 or more yards this season through seven SEC games, compared to 32 in seven SEC games in 2008. Sorry for error and glad to set the record straight.
COLUMBIA, S.C -- So, on Wednesday Florida Gators offensive coordinator Steve Addazio told reporters that the number of big plays this season has been pretty much the same as the number of big plays last season.
According to Addazio, Florida's coaching staff defines "big plays" as gains of 20 yards or more. Well, being a bunch of no-good skeptics, the editorial board at Gator Clause didn't believe Addazio and set out yesterday to prove him wrong. Game by game and line by line, Gator Clause recorded every gain of 20 yards or more through the first seven conference games of 2008 and 2009. Not surprisingly, we've got some pretty interesting news to report.
In 2008, the Gators' high-flying offense produced 32 gains of 20 or more yards through the first seven conference games of the season. This season, the Gators' conservatively cautious offense has almost produced the same amount of gains (29) of 20 yards or more through seven conference games. That's correct, the statistics are nearly identical! Pretty crazy, huh. You can read all about it today's Miami Herald. Click the link for my story advancing today's game. LINK!
Now, for the bad news. Gator Clause thinks it has figured out the exact reason why Gators fans are so frustrated with Florida's grind-it-out offense: Tim Tebow isn't getting to launch the ball downfield in his senior season. Tebow has only thrown three passes of 30 yards or more during conference games this season. Two of those passes went to tight end Aaron Hernandez -- a 44-yard touchdown against Kentucky and a 64-yard gain against Vanderbilt -- and one was the 77-yard touchdown by Deonte Thompson against Arkansas.
Through seven conference games in 2008, Tebow had already completed passes of 30 or more yards eight times. Not surprisingly, all but two of those long gains went to either Percy Harvin or Louis Murphy. David Nelson had a 41-yard reception against Vanderbilt last season and Jeff Demps took a swing pass 61 yards against Kentucky.
Now, you're asking yourself, is five passes the only thing that's different between last season's offense and this season's offense? The answer is no, of course. The biggest difference between the 2008 and 2009 offenses seem to be intermediate gains (10-19 yards, defined by me). This season, Florida has 37 rushing plays and 33 passing plays between 10-19 yards in seven conference games. In 2008, Florida had 43 rushing plays and 47! passing plays between 10-10 yards through seven conference games. Combine the intermediate gains in 2008 with an offense that was bolstered considerably by an opportunistic defense and special teams, and it's easy to see why scoring is down this season.
As for this season, the offense -- to use the Gators' coaching jargon -- has less "explosives" than in 2009. Add to that this offense's struggles in the red zone and it's easy to understand why fans are so upset. Pile on to red-zone struggles the fact that Tebow isn't getting to throw downfield in his senior season, the season he returned to school to improve his NFL draft stock, it's easy to understand why some fans are just down-right mad. Still, fans should realize that Florida's offense is producing well this season considering its limitations.